Turning Off Allergies? Gene Therapy Says It’s Possible
Allergies are a major cause of stress and discomfort for millions of people around the world. In America alone, we have approximately 50 million people suffering from this disease. Various medicines and treatments exist to ease allergy symptoms; however, these methods are no cure. Scientists at the University of Queensland are looking into a possible life-long treatment for severe allergies. Find out if there’s hope for a cure.
How Allergies Work
An allergy is a response from your immune system, an indicator that you are hypersensitive to certain substances. These allergens vary from person to person. Some people are allergic to certain plants, foods, drugs, materials or bugs. Even dust in the air is a potential allergen for someone suffering from the disease. When the body comes into contact with any of these allergens, it overreacts, causing allergy sufferers to experience coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, and more.
New Allergy Treatment
In a study using animal, Associate Professor Ray Steptoe at the UQ Diamantina Institute essentially ‘turned-off’ the immune response.
“Our work used an experimental asthma allergen, but this research could be applied to treat those who have severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shell fish and other substances,” says Professor Steptoe. “We take blood stem cells, insert a gene which regulates the allergen protein and we put that into the recipient. Those engineered cells produce new blood cells that express the protein and target specific immune cells, ‘turning off’ the allergic response.”
This research could mean significant progress towards curing allergy sufferers of their dilemma. Most current allergy treatments are effective but temporary. Patients have to keep taking these treatments and medications to relieve symptoms.
Professor Steptoe explains that “When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience results from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen. The challenge in asthma and allergies is that these immune cells, known as T-cells, develop a form of immune ‘memory’ and become very resistant to treatments.”
The Next Step in Research
The gene therapy is still in its early stages. Now that the animal trails have proven successful, Professor Steptoe hopes to move onto the next step – human trials.
“We have now been able ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, de-sensitising the immune system so that it tolerates the protein,” says Professor Steptoe. “We haven’t quite got it to the point where it’s as simple as getting a flu jab, so we are working on making it simpler and safer so it could be used across a wide cross-section of affected individuals.”
Professor Steptoe is working from Australia, which has more than 2 million residents with allergies. By testing the gene therapy with human cells, scientists can discover if the treatment is effective in people. The researchers might also discover if the gene therapy negatively effects the immune system altogether. For now, more research needs to be done and hopefully, it can lead to a single treatment cure for people suffering from allergies.
If you have allergy symptoms, we suggest visiting an ENT doctor. They have experience helping patients find a way to live with allergy symptoms.